When my dad was diagnosed with leukemia I was very young. I was 24 years old, counting down to my wedding in less than 6 months, getting ready to graduate college and launch my teaching career. My life was just beginning.
And my dad’s was ending.
But I didn’t know that yet.
Cancer is such a scary word. Not because of the treatments and the sickness and the hospitals, but because of the immediacy of death-talk. We like to ignore death like it doesn’t exist. But cancer is like the personification of death sitting right next to you on the couch, telling you bad jokes.
But my dad didn’t see it that way. He sat in his comfortable blue recliner and told me he didn’t have any regrets. He was brave and full of life – and he was going to live every last minute. He didn’t allow cancer to get him. He got cancer and whether he lived or died, he was going to beat it.
Over the next few months I had a simple prayer. I just wanted my dad in my wedding pictures. I wanted lasting memories that I could hold dear. A picture is a moment frozen in time. I wanted those last moments kept forever.
Those few months were a roller coaster of close calls. When cancer sits on your doorstep you are always ready for the doorbell to ring. I spent time in the hospital with my dad, sharing hot ham and cheese sandwiches and blow drying his thick hair. We valued time because it was definitely on blue light special. We didn’t know how long it was going to last.
Dad was too sick to attend my college graduation – but he sent me a letter with a beautiful gold bracelet. I accepted the fact that he might be in the hospital for the wedding – and I was okay. I wanted him to get better.
But prayers are our love letters to God – and my Jesus was advocating to the Father for me. The day of my wedding I was so in love, ready to marry my soul mate – the little girl’s “man of my dreams” scenario. And I knew my daddy would be there in spirit since he couldn’t attend in person.
But my love letter to God was definitely answered. The hospital administration decided to foot the bill to transport my father to the wedding – a couple hours away – so he could walk me down the aisle.
No matter how many times I tell it, this part of the story never gets old. I can remember standing on the stage in that church, in my beautiful white gown, smiling for the camera. When down the long aisle a door opened and in walked my father.
The suit was too big, he had lost weight. But his smile was brighter than any sickness could fade. I remember running – veil, dress, a flurry. I was a hot mess. But it didn’t matter. Nothing was going to stand between me and my dad on that precious day.
My dad joined me on the stage and we took hundreds of family pictures. I know it made him tired, but he walked me down the aisle with supernatural strength. He shook hands with his congregation as he held my arm for the last time as the number one man in my life. Then, he gave me away.
Brady and I had a beautiful, romantic honeymoon. Ten days of freedom from worry – my dad had walked me down the aisle with supernatural strength – he was okay. I was full of gratitude for his imminent recovery.
On the very last day of our honeymoon, I will never forget exactly where I was when the loud knocking began. I was in the shower when cancer finally rang our doorbell for the last time.
We packed up and drove several hours to be with my daddy. The entire drive my head was in my husband’s lap as the reality sank in solid, darkening my heart with sadness.
When we arrived we had 24 hours with my father, singing with him as his body slowly shut down. Our family surrounded his bed and my mom told him it was okay – he could go to heaven now. He drifted away as we sang hymns of grace, love, and promises of heaven. I got to kiss him goodbye – this warrior who beat cancer and was running the golden streets in heaven with all those who went before him.
The miracle of my wedding is the stuff movies are made of – magical moments that I will cherish forever. My father’s life was one well lived and it has blessed me beyond measure to learn from his bravery.
And the last photograph I took with my father reminds me of the way God cares so personally about each one of us – that He heard the prayer of a young bride-to-be. My request was minute, earthly, and certainly not comparable to many that have reached the ears of heaven.
But it mattered. And I will forever look at that last photograph and remember how much my Father loves me.